- Worlds within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev, and: Novel Epics: Gogol, Dostoevsky, and National Narrative, and: The Genesis of "The Brothers Karamazov": The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Text Making
The conventional wisdom of the study of the novels of Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) has long been that they are, in the words of the author himself, attempts "honorably and impartially to portray in appropriate types what Shakespeare called 'the body and pressure of time' and that swiftly changing physiognomy of the cultured class of Russians which has been the primary object of my observations." Professor Costlow's book does not seek to confront, certainly not to overturn, the conviction that realism and historicity are concepts essential to an adequate reading of Turgenev's novels. She does, however, seek to free the study of the novels from the confinement which may result from the rigorous and exclusionary application of these concepts. Her preference is to regard Turgenev's novels as "worlds within worlds" (a phrase borrowed from a letter of William James), and the world which she finds within the novels' depictions of historical reality and change is best accessed by inquiry into Turgenev's aestheticism, particularly into the rhetoric of the understated or unsaid.
The book's five chapters offer readings of Turgenev's four most celebrated novels, all of which were written between 1855 and 1861: Rudin (Chapter One), A Nest of Gentry (Dvorianskoe gnezdo, Chapters Two and Three), On the Eve (Na kanune, Chapter Four), and Fathers and Children (Ottsy i deti, Chapter Five). The author succeeds very well in realizing her intention of reading the novels in such a way as to "map out" (topographical metaphors abound in this study) Turgenev's hidden world. Her discussion of Rudin is prefaced by a judicious consideration of Turgenev's first literary steps. She finds that the lyricism and romanticism of the youthful verse with which he began his literary career gave way significantly as he developed in the direction of the simplicity of prose; she maintains, however, that his more mature style retained a substantial, essentially romantic, predisposition [End Page 322] for the hidden and the enigmatic, for the merely suspected as opposed to the explicitly stated, for the notion that truth and expressibility are related by an inverse proportion. I do not remember that she quotes Tiutchev's famous line: "A thought expressed is a lie," but she might well have done so in this connection. Costlow finds the story "Journey into the Woodland" (published 1857) emblematic of the development which preceded the four novels, and she recurs to her discussion of it several times in her study, using it as a key, of sorts, to the locked rooms of Turgenev's narratives.
All of Costlow's discussions are well worth careful study, especially her chapter on Fathers and Children. Of all Turgenev's novels this one has probably been served least well by the historically and politically slanted modes of approach so tactfully lamented in Costlow's "Introduction." Her reading of the novel provides a cogent and balanced picture of the narrative in which the tensions and the attractions among the characters, both between and within the generations depicted, are fully explored. In one world Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov are as unlike as night and day; in a world within that one, as Costlow shows, they are essentially the same.
The book by Frederick Griffiths and Stanley Rabinowitz provides detailed readings of two of nineteenth-century Russia's most celebrated novels: N. V. Gogol's (1809-1852) Dead Souls (Mertvye dushi, 1842) and F. M. Dostoevsky's (1821-1881) The Brothers Karamazov (Brat'ia Karamazovy, 1880). The authors approach their task intertextually, making out a case that...